Sunday, August 7, 2011

1.1: I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.

Paul: So, I've decided that one of my key narratives for this project is that Tim Gunn, the "on-air mentor" for the designers, is a bodhisattva. He exists to guide others on the path to enlightenment, sometimes with gentleness, sometimes with an encouraging word, sometimes beating the catechumen with a metaphorical switch, but all with loving-kindness and a passion for the preservation of greatness in the art.  He is a guardian of splendor and it is a show about guiding people to enlightenment.  I feel that this is backed up by one of the few lines they gave host, Ms. Heidi Klum, to the effect of "The world of fashion is cut-throat.  One day you're in, the next day you're out."  So much like existence.  And it plays into my Protestant pragmatism as well as my savage Darwinian view of reality every time Mr. Gunn delivers the kōan "Make it work."

Laurie:  I love that!  "Make it work."  I find the different challenges the show subjects the designers to during each episode incredibly appealing. I'm nothing if not a pragmatic soul, and so much of my own life, art, style, and basic survival have depended upon me doing just that: taking what I've been handed and making something of it.  This mindset is so embedded in my personality that I often prefer to work with a "challenge" handed to me by another than to invent my own; I prefer working with what I already have laying around to going out and buying all new stuff. I think I find challenges helpful, in part, because they limit my choices from infinity to manageable numbers and provide boundaries, and a loose framework to begin with. For me there are few things more debilitating and paralyzing than a world of equally good choices. (In fact, this is one of the main reasons, besides lack of confidence, that I never finished my college education: I couldn't narrow myself down to a particular field of study, or focus on a particular career. I froze like a deer in the headlights of all those amazing possibilities.)  Project Runway challenges each of its contestants with limitations in concept, in available materials, and in style.  Whether the designers view these constraints as helps or hindrances may well prove their success or their undoing.
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Paul: As for fixing my protagonist wagon to Mr. Gunn, I grant you that the highly edited images flashing before us on a lighted screen are attempting to direct our attention to the flashy young designers.  I, however, have this 9 season project before me like a tidal wave, and I understand that Heidi, Tim, Michael, and Nina are our through-line in this series.  Tim is not one of the judges.  He is our guru.

Mr. Gunn is one of those people who dress as I wish I could.  He seems to always be in a suit (which is how I would dress if I could) that one could wear to a meeting, to a club, or to a supermarket just as comfortably, not seeming awkward in any of those settings.

I would also point out two of the key players in our drama.  Immediately, everyone in my home loved contestant designer Austin Scarlett with his elvish charm, a sentiment that only grew as his strong work ethic and surprising toughness became evident.
Source:David Shankbone
He keeps his head down, does not party, does not enter into petty dramas, and produces some of the best work on the show.  This is the same sort of "married to their work" ethic of some of our great artists. (Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, and Dolly Parton all spring to mind.)  They are entirely focused on their work and, as a result, tend to be a bit otherworldly in their character.

Laurie: Yes, Austin's childlike transparency in his enthusiasms is absolutely endearing. It is early on in the season, but he appears to be guileless.  His focus is on his work. He appears determined to win, but to do it professionally, without any of the Machiavellian maneuvering becoming evident among some of the others even this early on. Also, it is early yet, (and I'm speaking from having watched two further episodes) but his own style is already emerging as strong and identifiable in its elegance and devotion to what I would call "classic beauty".

Paul:  After two hours of pressurizing under the highly dramatic head-space of other contestants, it is jarring to see how tough Austin is when he sews through his finger. [Laurie: Well, excusing his initial squeal that is. He seemed in genuine awe that he had actually done such a thing. And he was not the last one to sew through a finger during that challenge! The stress took it's toll on one and all, albeit in different ways.] Paul: One imagines that the others, almost to a person, would have been sobbing and wailing messes had that happened to them.  Also, Austin is cut from a whole cloth as it were.  His style is holographic.  I thought he was the only designer who dresses each day in the style of his design. The Mathers household is already prepared to cast its vote for the winner.

There is also a tableau with a model named Morgan.  She is three hours late for her fitting for the big fashion show because her mother died or some such nonsense. [Laurie: I believe the actual excuse was that her mother, whose job it usually is to wake her up failed to do so. Thus, she was a mere victim of her circumstances and her mother. Please read that with a mother's sarcasm.] Paul: Whatever.  Her designer even takes to the street in an attempt of finding a model (Street Smarts tip: if you are walking down the street and someone comes up to you and asks you to come model for their fashion show and that Heidi Klum will be there, politely decline and keep walking no matter how nice of television cameras they have following them.)  When Morgan arrives, Tim Gunn expresses to Morgan how bad this is.  And, as usual, truth flows from the mouth of a Gunn.  If everyone going through a difficult time stopped working, no work would be done on Earth.  Everyone is going through a difficult fight.  You do what you have to do in regular work and, as is the case here, if you're in a highly privileged position, you sacrifice everything on the altar of your real work.  Oooo, how the judgment flowed against Morgan. 

But then there's Jay, isn't there?

(Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images North America)
Jay is a walking manifestation of insecurities.  He drinks, smokes, and swears liberally.  He dresses in arguably the most flamboyant manner of all of the contestants.  He is puffy, and work shots reveal that he bites his fingernails.  He constantly wears sunglasses, the sign of one forbidding the world from seeing the windows to their soul.  Not to get ahead of myself, but he forms far too deep a bond of friendship with fellow-contestant Mario in the two days Mario is actually on the show, simply because they both smoke cigarettes.  The man who falls apart when Mario leaves is a rare glimpse behind the hearty and baroque system of defense mechanisms.  In short, I identify strongly with Jay.  I also catch a few hints that his shall be pastiche of a redemption story (the acknowledgement of the profits of his pornography industry years as "dirty money," the clear leaps and bounds of his evolving command of style, and, of course, the Jay-sus thing.)

Laurie: Yes, his acknowledgment of the "dirt" that is the porn industry lent me a respect for Jay that I would not have had otherwise.  Advocates of Porn spend a great deal of energy defending the "art, value, and dignity" of their work, arguing for it as a valuable outlet for pent up desires, and in that sense a social good. I'm reading into Jay's denunciation of it a recognition of how porn soils, demeans and objectifies everyone it touches.

Paul: I can't talk about the supermarket challenge without talking about one of the greatest minds of the past 100 years, a man who is responsible for so much of our daily lives and, indeed, a man without whose contribution to Western Civilization I daresay this show would not exist.  I speak of Andy Warhol.  Early Warhol took objects of everyday life (famously including a supermarket exhibit from whence comes his iconic soup cans) and offered them from a completely different perspective, that of high art, to illustrate their beauty and universality. 

He said, "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

Laurie: I'd never heard that quote, but I really like it. I'd never really given thought to the unifying/equalizing cultural power of mass-marketing/production.

Also, I think I should interject here that Episode One's challenge took all the designers to a supermarket and gave them $50 to spend on everything they would need to produce a dress for an evening out on the town - or something along those lines.

Paul: Indeed, employing materials culled from a common supermarket in the first episode was a wise move.  It reaches out to the faceless audience of common people (that's you and I), extending an inviting hand into the often esoteric world of fashion.  Granted, I wouldn't even give odds on the likelihood of Heidi Klum ever having to set foot in a supermarket again in her life, but this portion of the contest served to reinforce that, say what you will, the world of fashion infuses the very air that we breathe.  Whether we choose to accept it or not, it is a force that guides so much of all of our lives.

Laurie: And I think it bodes well for the our contest, that not one of the Season One designers purchased a coconut or a melon.

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